How to Optimize for Your Customer Buying Cycle
As it becomes ever more important to deliver an exceptional customer experience, businesses are exploring conversational commerce solutions that will earn continued loyalty from their existing customers, as well as steadily attract new ones. By optimizing customer conversations across each stage of the buying cycle, they can build the kind of relationships that result in exactly these kinds of business outcomes. But what exactly is this cycle, and how should companies go about optimizing it? Here's an introduction to what the purchasing cycle is, how it works, and how businesses can perfect their customer engagement across it.
What Is the Buying Cycle?
The buying cycle is the series of steps a customer takes on the way to purchasing a product or service. This cycle, of course, includes the actual transaction itself, but it also encompasses all the tasks a customer completes before the purchase. It's organized into five distinct stages, usually beginning when a customer identifies a need they have. You may also see the buying cycle described as the "customer journey" in the business-to-consumer (B2C) space. In the business-to-business (B2B) market, it is often referred to as the "buyer's journey."
What Are the Five Stages of the Buying Cycle?
The buying cycle includes awareness, consideration, intent, purchase, and renewal. To reach customers, many marketers have already adopted SEO strategies that are tailored to specific stages of this cycle. But many companies are increasingly realizing that by using conversational commerce strategies to optimize the buying cycle, they can increase the impact of their marketing investment even further. Here's a look at how they can do so at each stage, from awareness to renewal.
At this early stage, a customer becomes aware that they have a problem that needs solving or an opportunity worth pursuing. They begin their search for reliable and relevant information that will help them identify the right product or service for their needs. As they carry out this due diligence, the customer often consults a variety of information sources using multiple channels.
The Vonage Global Customer Engagement Report 2022 tracked these customer preferences:
44% visit a business or service provider's website during this stage
28% ask for opinions on social media channels
21% call the business or service provider directly via voice
20% click on a website or banner ads
32% show up in person at a retail store
Marketers want to be particularly visible at this moment, which is why they tend to invest significant resources in strategies early in the buying cycle that they think will help them land on the radar of these prospective customers. However, as these findings show, brands can also make a significant impact by investing in conversational commerce solutions that engage and inform customers at this crucial stage of the purchase cycle.
As with any good conversation, it should be easy and free-flowing. For businesses, this means enabling a frictionless experience in-channel. Think of a seamless interaction that doesn’t require customers to leave the channel — which then helps to better capture the opportunities.
For example, businesses can use social listening capabilities to identify where customers are asking questions and proactively offer support, initiating a conversation that will ideally not just result in conversion but an ongoing relationship as well.
Once the customer is aware of your product or service, they'll begin evaluating how well it meets their needs. They may still be on the fence about whether they really need a solution in the first place, regardless of the brand they choose to buy from. During this period, the customer may be looking for more information that will help them answer specific questions about the product or service, arriving at landing pages or watching videos in an attempt to understand all that it entails.
Chatbots can also step in to assist, providing helpful answers to initial questions, as well as links to informational resources. When the customer needs further assistance, the chatbot can offer to connect them with a knowledgeable human colleague who can take it from there. Your sales team might then step in at this stage, providing the customer additional decision-making support and highlighting the most salient reasons why your brand is the better choice compared to the competition. This is especially likely to be the case if your business is in the B2B space — the products and services it provides are complex, or those products and services are high-ticket items.
From your company's point of view, the intent stage is a make-or-break moment in the buyer's journey. Having been convinced of the need for your product or service, the customer is likely weighing the pros and cons of going with your offering versus the alternatives that your competitors are offering. If they're involved, your sales representatives will have to make the most compelling case possible that your solution is the best one available based on the customer's own decision-making priorities, whether they're financial, logistical, or emotional in nature. Particularly if the customer has purchased from you before, it's essential to provide them with personalized service that shows you know their individual tastes and preferences.
The customer is now ready to move forward with a purchase. They have selected the product or service that they feel is the right one for their needs, and they want to buy it. From their point of view, it's time to continue the conversation they've hopefully already established with their brand of choice.
At this stage, particularly for non-routine purchases, consumer preferences vary:
28% will chat with the business or service provider via their website
26% will message the company via social media
38% will call the business directly via voice
39% will begin shopping on the company's website or ecommerce platform
45% will go to a retail store
Although some people might assume that this stage represents the end of the customer journey — after all, the customer is buying — marketers that have embraced a conversational commerce strategy know that it's just the beginning of that journey, not the end.
Again, it’s important to engage customers in-channel. This extends the easy, free-flowing vibe of a good conversation. The well-timed follow-up email or chat can inform customers of sales or promos, or perhaps introduce them to additional products or services.
Rather than simply thanking the customer for their business, a brand that is invested in nurturing its customer relationships over the long run will create opportunities to continue the conversation well after the initial purchase has been made.
If your new customer is satisfied with the product or service you've provided them, then they'll consider renewing your services or buying from you again. Although you're likely the favorite in their deliberations this time around — especially if you've already created a relationship with them that is conversational rather than simply transactional — you still have to earn their repeat business. You shouldn't assume they will automatically choose you again going forward.
Following up early and often with these customers is a key to improving business outcomes and increasing your chances of ensuring bottom-line growth. Nine in 10 customers report that they want businesses to reach out to them after a purchase, and half of them want this to happen routinely.
Customers also have distinct preferences when it comes to the channels that companies should use at this stage of the purchase cycle:
63% want to be contacted via email
45% would rather receive an SMS
42% would like a phone call
32% prefer to be messaged via social media
19% want the follow-up to take place at an in-store meeting
16% are most comfortable with video chat
How to Optimize for Each Buying Stage
Conversational commerce can help your business optimize each stage of the purchase cycle, significantly enhancing the customer experience in the process. During the awareness stage, brands can use social listening to discover when customers are asking questions related to the company's products and services on social media channels, then proactively respond and offer relevant resources. At the consideration stage, bots can field preliminary customer questions as human agents monitor the conversation, then take over when appropriate.
Once a customer arrives at the intent stage, a detailed customer profile that includes data such as their purchase history and the company's recent interactions with them will help your sales agents deliver the personalized care that is required to earn their business. You can also use built-in commerce capabilities to create orders on the customer's behalf and allow them to make payments from within a chat session. Once the customer has completed their purchase and transitioned to the renewal stage, your agents can set up reminders to follow up with customers at a scheduled time, ensuring that the conversation continues.
Optimize Your Customer Buying Cycle
Customers don't simply want transactional exchanges; they want conversations. Moreover, they want those conversations to continue from the moment they identify a need through to after they've made a purchase. By understanding what the purchase cycle is and how to effectively engage customers at each of its stages, businesses can turn customer conversations into conversions and, in doing so, nurture lasting customer relationships that deliver sustained business growth.
Discover more insights on how to optimize the customer buying cycle in the Vonage Global Customer Engagement Report.